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Candidates for Arizona's biggest political jobs can advertise themselves for free on a worldwide hotline designed to reach millions of patriotic voters.

So far during this campaign, thank heavens, only one candidate has tried it.

The hotline is operated by the Pentagon to serve the American military and their families who vote by absentee ballot.

Candidates for governor and the U.S. Congress from every state are invited to record a one-minute message for the hotline, which operates a lot like the voice-mail telephone systems used by many businesses.

Dogfaces and swabbies can then call the system toll-free and punch up miniature position statements made by the windbags back home.

Presumably this allows military voters--who vote in higher percentages than civilians--to become better informed about stateside politics.

"It was started in 1988, in response to military people who were concerned that they didn't have enough information on candidates and issues," says Henry Valentino, civilian director of the Pentagon's voting- assistance program. "Over 20 percent of those who did not vote said that was their primary reasons for not voting."

The Department of Defense doesn't advertise it, but nonwarriors can call the line, too. The number is 202-603-6500--a long distance call from anywhere outside of the Washington, D.C., area. (Special note to political gadflies: During periods between elections, hotline users can call the system to send voice mail to governors, senators and members of congress.) During election time, most candidates use their time for combat-boot-licking. Not surprisingly, a New Times review of hotline sound bites revealed that most of the speechmakers are for a strong defense.

On a rare occasion, Valentino says, the hotline can be downright entertaining. Last year, a California gubernatorial candidate sang her message. Sadly, most candidates avoid tele-mudslinging. "We've had some candidates whose messages have reflected an obvious negative approach to the campaign," says Valentino. "But generally, most of the candidates are responsible." Presidential candidates were granted telephone time during the 1988 campaign. Michael Dukakis recorded one message--actually, campaign staffers assembled snippets from their boss's standard stump speech--and stuck with it all fall. George Bush changed his message every week until the last week of the campaign, when he personally cut a different barnburner every day. The hotline handled an average of 300 calls a day during that race.

This fall, candidates can update their message as often as they'd like, just by picking up the nearest telephone and talking into it. Aside from the price of the phone call, the service is free to any candidate.

Based on a few raw numbers, the call would seem to be a good investment. In 1988, 63.5 percent of the military voted (among the general population, only about 50 percent turned out). According to Valentino, Arizona has more than 28,000 service members who are eligible to vote in primary and general elections this fall (and who can listen in on hotline speeches for nothing). Add their more than 21,000 dependents into the count and you have a hefty block of votes.

Valentino contacted all eligible Arizona candidates by mail in mid-July, but as of late last week, only Joseph Sweeney, a Republican candidate for Mo Udall's seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, had recorded a message.

"I think as a member of the military in Arizona you realize that your federal vote is becoming less and less important," speechifies Sweeney, operator of an unaccredited night law school in Tucson, who has run an almost unnoticed campaign based on incumbent-bashing and political-action committee paranoia. "I estimate that it's becoming almost meaningless, in a sense, to vote in a federal election.

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Dave Walker